Decision time looming for college underclassmen

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Decision time looming for college underclassmen

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 12:30 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Just because Monday nights NCAA Championship game was a stinkerin case youve been under a rock this week, Connecticut prevailed over underdog Butler in a horrific offensive displaydoesnt mean you should turn your back on whats going on in the college game. While the actual season is over, this time of the year is notable for not only the annual coaching carouselthe flurry of coaches either getting fired or hired around the countrythat occurs in college basketball, but for star underclassmen deciding whether or not theyll remain in college or hightail it to the professional level.

After missing the majority of the season with a toe injury before returning for the NCAA Tournament, Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving decided Wednesday to declare for the NBA draft. Irving is perhaps the top overall prospect in college basketball and his odds of being the top pick in the draft are increased by the fact that others regarded as No. 1 candidatessuch as Arizona forward Derrick Williams and North Carolina swingman Harrison Barnesremain on the fence about their respective futures.

While theres still plenty of time for underclassmen to decide if theyre leaving schoolthe deadline to declare for the draft is April 24, but players who have not retained agents can pull out by May 8some notable players have apparently already decided theyll stay in school. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, Texas freshman Tristan Thompson and North Carolina twin towers John Henson and Tyler Zeller are among the players who have publicly declared theyre up for another March Madness run next season.

Besides Irving, however, no truly elite underclassmen prospects have put two feet in the door (i.e., ruled out a return to college because they have or plan to sign with an agent, which would compromise their college eligibility) just yet, although the likes of UConn star junior guard and national champion Kemba Walker, Baylor freshman Perry Jones, Kansas twin junior forwards, Marcus and Markieff Morris, and the aforementioned Williams, a sophomore, are expected to do so eventually, while players like North Carolinas Barnes and Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight supposedly are in limbo.

Meanwhile, the handful of players who have closed the door on coming back include Illinois freshman forward Jereme Richmond, who struggled through an up-and-down debut season in Champaign that include team-related suspensions. Richmond, a native of Waukegan, Ill., in Chicagos northern suburbs, was a highly-rated high school prospect and although he was inconsistent in his lone season with the Illini, he will likely be selected in the draftalthough with the impending NBA lockout, players who arent considered first-round or even lottery-pick locks should be cautiousdue to his vast potential.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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